Category: CIS News

Rising to the Challenge: R. J. Nealon

Nealon at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

R. J. Nealon has always craved competition. He is a national champion swimmer, a national runner-up in football and basketball, holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu and is a lifelong wrestler. On Saturday, Nealon graduates with a degree in journalism, and—like all his other accomplishments to date—he didn’t let his cerebral palsy hold him back.

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It’s caused by damage that occurs to the brain as it is in development, most often before birth. Complications during childbirth caused Nealon to suffer a stroke which resulted in his cerebral palsy (CP). His experience with CP affects the right side of his body, which limits his range of motion and functionality.

Nealon competed in the Special Olympics for 15 years, where he won three gold medals at the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games. Ever the athlete, Nealon also competed in sports outside of the Special Olympics realm, alongside high school classmates who would go on to be NCAA Division-1 student athletes.

“I had to train harder than anyone else,” said Nealon. “Swimming with those guys helped me a lot because they pushed me; they wouldn’t let me modify things. They made me do things the right way.”

What Nealon learned from his experiences on the field, on the mat and in the pool easily translated to his success as a student. In Summer 2019, he worked 10 weeks as a programming intern for ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut—scheduling television content network. The fast-paced work environment and constant motion at the ESPN offices fueled his desire to one day be a senior sportswriter for ESPN.

Nealon at the 2019 X Games, where he produced X Games content for the ESPN Twitter account.

“The experience I had at ESPN—I want to be in that competitive atmosphere,” said Nealon. “I want to be working with people who are the best at what they do, who push me every day. That doesn’t just make me better; it makes them better too. I know It’s going to take some work, but I’m willing to do the work to get back there.”

His experience is already paying off. Not only did it open Nealon’s eyes to the full scope of the industry—in front of the camera and behind the scenes—it also further developed his skill as a writer. He’s is currently working on a story he pitched to ESPN about a Special Olympian. Nealon says that writing and editing this story with input from Rebecca Nordquist at ESPN have improved his writing for the Crimson White and WVUA 23, where he serves as a digital sports reporter.

Beyond his goal of becoming an accomplished sportswriter, Nealon serves as an advocate for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. He’s currently scheduled as a keynote speaker for the Special Olympics 2020 Law Enforcement Torch Run International Conference in National Harbor, Maryland in, September 2020 and hopes to one day present a Ted Talk to elevate the platform of his message.

Whether as an athlete or an intern, Nealon embraces the challenge—choosing to be pushed and made better by his peers rather than running away from the heat of the trials. As he graduates on Saturday and begins his next chapter, countless challenges surely await him, and he intends to answer them.

Research Spotlight: Dr. Scott Parrott

Women veterans and veterans of World War II appear more often in newspaper photos than their make-up of the country’s veterans, according to a study by researchers at The University of Alabama.

The study examined photos of veterans shared on Twitter over a 10-year period by a newspaper from the largest metro area in every state, which combined for about 10.8 million Twitter followers.

“It’s important we understand how the media represent veterans because more and more, the media are serving as a primary source of information about veterans,” said Dr. Scott Parrott, UA associate professor of journalism and creative media. “We’re examining how exposure to these stories shapes people’s emotions, beliefs, attitudes and behavioral intentions toward veterans.”

Parrott is co-author on a paper published in Visual Communications Quarterly along with Dr. David L. Albright, UA’s Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research and director of the Office for Military Families and Veterans. Former graduate students and UA alumna Caitlin Dyche and Hailey Grace Steele, both in journalism and creative media, are also co-authors on the paper.

Through marking a random sample of the photos in a database, the research found women veterans were in 14% of photographs, despite accounting for 8% of the nation’s 20 million living veterans. Those who served in WWII were in 20% of the photos, the most of any American conflict, even though WWII veterans, at 3% of living veterans, are the smallest group.

Though women veterans were overrepresented, men still dominated the media images, appearing in 86% of all photos. White veterans also appeared in 82% percent of photos, close to the 84% make-up of all veterans.

In fact, the most used combination of race, gender and service was of a white, male veteran of WWII, which appeared in 13% of photos.

“The military is becoming more diverse in terms of both race and gender,” Parrott said. “However, when many people picture a veteran or service member, they picture a man. They picture an older white man. This can be problematic.”

That women appeared often in the photographs can be important to changing that image, he said.

There is a divide between military and civilians as the number of people with a close friend or relative serving in the military dwindles. The mass media, including newspapers, play a crucial role in portraying veterans to the public with possible implications on policy and behavior toward veterans, Parrott said.

“We’re interested in how people are exposed to media messages overall and how these shape beliefs and attitudes when people lack knowledge concerning military service,” Albright said. “I think our study suggests that additional work needs to be done to unpack the use by media of social categorizations.”

Two C&IS Students Named to AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Class of 2020

C&IS Students Erica Howie (left) and Gabbie Waller were recently named to the AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Class of 2020.

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) has named two students from the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) to its annual Most Promising Multicultural Student program. Erica Howie and Gabbie Waller, both senior advertising majors, joined 48 other students around the country in the 2020 class.

“Being a part of the Most Promising Multicultural Student Class has given me the confidence to know that I have what it takes to be a young talent in the industry,” said Howie, who was born and raised in Japan. “As I start my career in the industry, I want to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion. I saw the Most Promising Multicultural Students program as an opportunity to do just that.”

The Most Promising Multicultural Student Program is in its 24th year and is part of AAF’s initiatives towards promoting diversity and inclusion within the advertising industry. Next, students will take part in a four-day industry immersion program with professional development workshops, site visits and meetings with recruiters in February in New York.

Waller, a Houston native whose mother immigrated from Honduras, sees the Most Promising Multicultural Student program as a way to share the stories of the students with diverse backgrounds from around the country.

“This program is imperative to multicultural students as it not only allows us to network but also gives us a chance to meet others and translate diversity into our advertising careers,” she said. “In this position, I can not only tell my story but also fulfill the duty of the advertising industry to represent diversity, which has been one of my goals coming into this field.”

The award is a familiar one to C&IS, as 4 students have been selected to the program since 2017. C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that harbors diversity and inclusion and influences student leaders to affect change in their respective industries.

COM 219 Students Impact their Communities with the “Make a Difference” Project

Tatianna Zambrano shares her final Make A Difference project presentation with her COM 219 classmates.

The first day of a college class is typically a guided walkthrough of the course’s content and a breakdown of the assignments with rubrics detailing how to make the grade. But in COM 219: Honors Interpersonal Communication, students are tasked with more than making the grade; they’re challenged to make a difference.

Though COM 219 has been taught since Fall 2018, this is the first implementation of Dr. Jennifer Becker’s (communication studies) “Make a Difference” project. Becker assigned her students to apply their research by identifying a need, developing a plan and executing a community-based project. Each finalized project was required to have specific, measurable and actionable outcomes that demonstrated how the students made a difference.

“The learning that occurs by designing, executing and analyzing this project is so much richer than traditional methods,” said Becker. “This project empowers the students and helps them recognize that they are capable, and there is so much they can do to impact their communities.”

The students researched an interpersonal communication concept, theory, process or principle  to develop various projects aimed at making a difference. Joey Vargo (civil engineering) planned a ping-pong tournament and movie night for peers on his residence hall floor to interact with one another, Wen Walsh (mechanical engineering) and Nicholas Coker (MBA) directed and produced a public service announcement highlighting different University programs that feature authentic conversations, and Kennah Davis (psychology) created a website that houses resources to assist college roommates with conflict resolution.

“This project is the first that I’ve ever had where you actually implement your research,” said Tatianna Zambrano. “There have been so many hypothetical projects I’ve created for classes that I’ve never gotten to do. When Dr. Becker told us we had to execute this project, it didn’t intimidate me; it excited me.”

Zambrano worked with guidance counselors at Holy Spirit Catholic Middle School to normalize their contact with students and to destigmatize mental health issues. The students involved in the project had 30-minute sessions with their school counselors which led to an increased willingness to visit the counselors on an as-needed basis. By the end of the project, none of the students answered that they felt uncomfortable visiting the counselors, which was an improvement on the data collected at the project’s start.

“This class is one of my favorites and one of the most beneficial classes I’ve taken in undergrad,” said Zambrano. “When I go to grad school, a lot of the skills that I’ve worked on here are really going to help me.”

C&IS’ Britt Takes a Deep Dive into Danbooru

You don’t have to be the trendiest, in-the-know web surfer to be familiar with imageboards and their wide popularity among many internet users. Love them or hate them, imageboards are cross-cultural internet forums that bring together millions of users to share images and add a splash of color all their own to the infinite online conversation.

One kind of imageboard in particular is of special interest to C&IS researcher Dr. Brian C. Britt (advertising and public relations). In his recently published article, Lessons from Danbooru, Britt outlines the uniqueness of booru-style imageboards and what he has learned from studying user behavior on Danbooru.

“Other online platforms can learn a few things from what’s drawn people to Danbooru for the last 15 years,” said Britt. “Over 200,000 people engage with this site on a daily basis. Over 3 million submissions have been made to this site and thoroughly curated by its users.”

According to Britt, the curation process that naturally occurs on Danbooru and similar nonlinearly directed imageboards is unique. Other imageboard platforms begin a discussion thread with a user’s posted media, and the thread continues as other users make replies. Each of these replies is contained as a part of the thread. This behavior is similar to Facebook’s user-to-user interactions.

However, on nonlinearly directed image boards, each post is treated as a self-contained unit, much like social media sites such as Tumblr. Users can add their own comments to a discussion thread about the content, but they also interact with each piece of content independent of the thread, applying tags and up- or down-voting the posts. This keeps the shared media at the center of the online interaction. The focus of user engagement with the media is on curating, evaluating and refining the submissions over time. For Danbooru, this means that the online content is constantly posted, curated, evaluated and refined solely by users, which ultimately offers an improved user-media relationship.

As a researcher, Britt examines how the behavior of members in large scale online communities causes the communities to develop over time. This can be a community that forms around a single hashtag or entire social media platforms. According to Britt, studying online user behavior can help us to understand how communities form and evolve.

“You’ve got a large community that’s devoted a lot of time and energy to [Danbooru],” said Britt. “What’s driving them? What’s motivating them to be involved? We need to understand that if we’re going to develop better online platforms that might make use of similar types of social or interpersonal mechanisms.”

To read the full results of Britt’s published research entitled “Content curation, evaluation, and refinement on a nonlinearly directed imageboard: Lessons from Danbooru,” click here.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit

C&IS Alumna Spotlight: Myreete Wolford

“Get involved so much that you learn what breaks you – but please don’t actually break!”

Alumna Myreete Wolford (B.A. in Communication and Information Sciences in Public Relations ’14) is a Business Development Manager at Ketchum in Chicago, IL. As a graduate of C&IS, Myreete is passionate about writing, public relations and the supportive team at Ketchum.

Read below to see Wolford’s insight into her current career, the lessons she’s learned along the way and how C&IS helped her create her story.

 What is your official job title? 

I am a Manager of Business Development at Ketchum and support the development of North American and global growth for Ketchum. In this, I provide strategic pitch counsel, creative storytelling, marketing development, and c-suite organization for opportunities within the pipeline for this Top 5 PR Firm. Internally, I am a mentor for our “center team,” where I focus on sales-minded personal and professional development for our entry-level team members.

Why did you choose C&IS for your studies? 

A few reasons! I love[d] to write, I respected the progressive and forward-thinking nature of C&IS and I knew that having a nationally ranked public relations program on my resume could take me places – and it has!

What lessons from C&IS have helped you throughout your career? 

C&IS has an incredible number of resources for students and in that, involvement and opportunity arise. I gained real-world experience, networked with professionals who could speak to my credit during job interviews and beyond, and learned how to own my strengths and polish up my weaknesses. I was involved in so much within C&IS and can pinpoint the lessons learned from each extracurricular activity:

  1. A plansbook for AdTeam – I write RFPs for a living now!
  2. Pitching media for a news story – I can thank Platform Magazine for having media relationships before leaving C&IS.
  3. Client service knowledge and respect – I wouldn’t have learned so quickly if it wasn’t for The Plank Center and Capstone Agency!
  4. Understanding what it takes to cut B-Roll – I watched my broadcast classmates closely to get the BTS of a newsroom.

How can students make the best use of their studies?

Get involved so much that you learn what breaks you. – but please don’t actually break! Honor your commitments, be kind and never leave a classmate hanging – you never know who in your classes will be your client or colleague one day. Use so many of C&IS’ resources that you leave college with a wide array of skills, not just those you learn in a classroom. Learn video production, design, media relations/pitching, coding – you name it, it will help! Get an internship or marketing job during college so you can have a real understanding of how your studies apply to your future career (Hint: It’ll make you care more). Beyond networking, make true friendships that last – no one else will understand your job like your communication friends.

What advice do you have for students interested in your field? 

Public Relations covers a lot of ground – do informational interviews to understand the pathways available to you. Within my role in Ketchum’s growth, I sell the services we provide and do it all behind the scenes. A role like mine is not widely available at many agencies, but without “New Biz,” a firm couldn’t survive. If you’re interested in my field, begin by cultivating your long-term relationships now. Find a mentor, not just a person to try to get you a job. Don’t be entitled nor expectant – work your bums off for what you want and what you get. No matter what, handwrite thank you notes to everyone, always.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

Rewarding is the energy your work gives back to you. Rewarding is hands down, it’s my team. There is something in the water here at Ketchum… your colleagues become your family – people you’d give anything to support. Rewarding is looking back at the last few months knowing that three of my direct reports were promoted, that we won a great number of new business – business that our account teams are proud to work on, and then going home every day amped up about what we get to accomplish tomorrow.

What motivates you? 

Motivation for everyone is different. For me, it’s my faith. My motivation is bringing my best to work every day all in order to show Love and Grace to others.

Thank you, Myreete!

Plank Center Celebrates Mentorship at 10th Annual Gala

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations celebrated its 10th annual “Milestones in Mentoring” Gala in Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 7. More than 20 faculty, staff, students and alumni represented the The University of Alabama at the event.

The gala brought together more than 320 public relations professionals, educators and students to recognize esteemed leaders whose commitment to mentoring generates a robust network of influence and accelerates success in the public relations profession.

Honorees at this year’s mentorship gala included:

  • Rich Jernstedt, President & CEO, The Jernstedt Company, and past executive leader with Golin, FleishmanHillard and Porter Novelli (Legacy Award)
  • Matthew Harrington, Global President and Chief Operating Officer, Edelman (Agency Award)
  • Cheryl Sanclemente, Senior Director of Corporate PR, Salesforce (Emerging Leader Award)
  • David Dozier, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism & Media Studies, San Diego State University (Bruce K. Berger Educator Award)
  • Kelly McGinnis, SVP and Chief Communications Officer, Levi Strauss & Co. (Jack Koten Corporate Award)
  • Kim Hunter, CEO, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS; Chairman & CEO of The LAGRANT Foundation; and Managing Partner of KLH & Associates (Betsy Plank Award)

The gala was part of a two-day series of events, as students also had the opportunity to attend a networking session with the six honorees at DePaul University prior to the gala and join UA faculty and staff for the Center’s Summit on Diversity and Inclusion Friday morning.

“Each year, this evening allows us to give well-deserved recognition to the leading mentors in our field while also showcasing UA’s finest,” said Dr. Karla Gower, director of The Plank Center and professor in UA’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “Most importantly, these events enable our students to shape the future of our industry by giving them access to influential thought leaders who impart invaluable skills and insights.”

The evening has been dubbed “The Oscars of Public Relations” and “The Best Night in PR,” as it takes on an unmatched energy to inspire those in attendance to mentor the next generation of leaders.

More information on the Milestones in Mentoring Gala is available on The Plank Center’s website.

About the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource for practitioners, educators and students who are passionate about advancing their careers and the public relations profession. Led by a national advisory board of leading educators and practitioners, the Center develops and recognizes outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society. Founded in 2005, the Center is named after Betsy Plank, the first lady of PR. Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit

Barnidge’s Study on Virtual Reality Investigates Learning from the News

Dr. Matt Barnidge (left) assists a C&IS graduate student with testing the virtual reality news story.

For decades, news has been consumed by readers and viewers around the world in a variety of formats—print, video and radio, to name a few. Virtual reality (VR) technology now gives news outlets the capability of placing their viewers right in the middle of the action, where they can look around and get a 360° perspective of the story.

As a national leader in information sciences education, C&IS strives to be on the cutting-edge of technological advancements impacting the fields of communication and media. Research conducted by Dr. Matt Barnidge (Assistant Professor, Journalism and Creative Media) is studying the effects of virtual reality news stories on learning from the news.

“To the person immersed in the story, it looks like you’ve just been dropped in, like you’re hovering a couple of feet off the ground,” said Barnidge. “We want to know the effects of being in the middle of the story.”

The experiment presents the subjects with one of three different versions of the same news piece, a story on climate change produced by CNN. Subjects either experience the story in virtual reality, view the story in 360° video or read a version of the story that has been adapted by Barnidge into text format. After consuming the story, the subjects are tested on story recall, or the extent to which they remember facts from the story, and cognitive elaboration, or the extent to which they connect facts in the story to other ideas, to determine which news format best promotes learning.

“Are we in the early stages of this? Absolutely, but news follows people,” said Barnidge. ”If this platform develops to the point that everyone has VR, and their social networking, gaming and other online interactions are happening in VR, then the news will follow them there too.”

Virtual reality as a medium is already shaping the way thousands of people interact with one another. Barnidge’s research could help news networks understand how the stories they craft with this technology have an effect on informing their audiences about key issues.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit

2019 C&IS Lead Retreat

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) develops global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication and information spectrum. For one weekend in October, a group of C&IS leaders traveled to Panama City Beach, Florida for leadership development and experiential learning at the inaugural C&IS Student Lead Retreat

The student collective of 46 established and emerging leaders were led by four C&IS faculty and staff members through an interactive curriculum of leadership programming that encompassed communication, diversity and collaboration.

“I loved interacting with different people from my College that I had never met before,” said Maddie Gall (junior, public relations and communication studies). “I now have a community that I can learn from and grow with.”

Throughout the weekend, students connected their leadership experiences in C&IS and became a network of peers who understand their individual and group impact. Group workshops, team building exercises, breakout sessions and personal reflection united the students, all while enjoying the beautiful beaches of the Emerald Coast.

“This retreat lit a fire in me, and I have taken away so much from the workshops and activities,” said Dominique Satterwhite (senior, telecommunication and film). “The trip facilitators were so willing to help us learn and taught us how to embrace the things that may divide us, to help us reach a common goal.”

The mission statement of the Lead Retreat was to develop leaders who do the extraordinary in C&IS and beyond. The retreat’s final activity challenged the students to make a statement of how they would be extraordinary moving forward. All 46 students accepted the challenge to be impactful leaders, whether or not they are appointed to a C&IS leadership position.

“Most students think that to be a leader you must serve in an official capacity,” said Elizabeth Tagg (junior, communication studies). “Anyone can be a leader, and our voices and actions in the small, everyday moments of life can impact others in ways we rarely expect.”

Financial support for the inaugural Lead Retreat was provided by the generosity of C&IS alumni and friends. The retreat’s budget was funded in full as the 2019 passion project for Bama Blitz, The University of Alabama’s annual online fundraising event. Without the support of the extended C&IS network, this retreat would not have been possible.

“We do a lot to cultivate community and inclusion at C&IS, but this weekend served as the first opportunity for me to grasp what that community looks like,” said Tagg. “This experience has been my favorite at UA, I am so thankful for everyone who made it possible.”


To view more photos from the 2019 Lead Retreat, check out the Facebook album here.

UA PRSSA Chapter Wins Big at PRSSA International Conference

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at The University of Alabama was honored with multiple chapter and individual awards at the recent PRSSA International Conference in San Diego.

In addition to being named a PRSSA Star Chapter, UA’s PRSSA chapter also received the Teahan National Chapter Awards for Chapter Diversity and Outstanding Faculty Adviser to C&IS faculty member Tracy Sims.

“Our executive board has actively worked to seamlessly integrate diversity and inclusion into our organization’s mission and activities since adding a vice president of diversity and inclusion officer position in 2017-18 and forming a Diversity and Inclusion committee in 2018-19,” Sims said. “It’s wonderful to have those efforts recognized with the Chapter Diversity Award.”

According to the Public Relations Society of America, the Chapter Diversity Award recognizes outstanding commitment to diversity within the PRSSA Chapter, and is judged on activities performed to promote, generate awareness and encourage diversity within the chapter. The Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award is given each year to the faculty adviser who shows outstanding service to the PRSSA Chapter through dedication and creative chapter guidance, effective student motivation, exceptional contributions to public relations education, supportive chapter advocacy and representation within the academic department and with the local PRSA chapter sponsoring chapter and its members.

“I am both proud and honored to be at the helm of this amazing department, talented and giving faculty, and exemplary students,” said Dr. Damion Waymer, Advertising and Public Relations Department Chair at C&IS. “This recognition is external validation for the hard work and investment we put into ensuring that our curriculum is current, rigorous and prepares our students adequately for work in the public relations industry.”

In addition to the chapter awards, three C&IS students were awarded scholarships through the PRSSA/PRSA Foundation: Gabrielle Sirois received the John D. Graham Scholarship; graduate student Gloris Trujillo received the Neumeier Family Leadership Award; and Kathleen McManus received the Lawrence G. Foster Award. These scholarships all carry over $1,000 worth of funding.

“Serving as the UA PRSSA faculty adviser since 2008 has been a true pleasure,” Sims said. “I get to work with some of our best students — such as our three scholarship recipients — as they develop their leadership skills and knowledge of the profession.”

UA’s PRSSA chapter was founded in 1970 and currently boasts over 180 members. This marks the third time that UA’s PRSSA chapter has been named a Star Chapter.